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Snow traps thousands in Bosnian villages

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina >> Bosnian authorities on Sunday used helicopters to evacuate sick people and deliver food to thousands of people who have been cut off by the heaviest snow the country has ever recorded.

Across Eastern Europe thousands of people were digging themselves out from heavy snow that followed a weeklong cold snap that has killed hundreds.

More than 100 remote Bosnian villages are cut off by snow over two meters (6 1/2 feet) high in the mountains. More than a meter (three feet) has fallen in the capital Sarajevo, where a state of emergency has been declared.

Three helicopters cruised over eastern Bosnia Sunday, delivering food and picking people who needed evacuation.

Sarajevo has been paralyzed since Friday evening and authorities have ordered all schools closed. Residents have volunteered to remove snow and ice from the trams that are stuck along the city’s tracks.

In neighboring Serbia, officials said 70,000 people remain cut off. So far, 32 municipalities throughout the country have introduced emergency measures, said senior emergency official Predrag Maric.

Later Sunday, the country’s emergency board will hold a session that will be chaired by Interior Minister Ivica Dacic.

In Montenegro, the north of the country remains cut off, although emergency crews have managed to clear some of the roads that had been blocked. The situation also somewhat improved in Croatia, where bus traffic toward the coast resumed, even as snow slowed traffic throughout the country.

In the coastal town of Split, where authorities declared emergency measures, dozens of people sought medical help for injuries sustained on ice and snow. Snow is extremely rare in Split, which is on the Adriatic coast.

The snow also hit in Western Europe on Sunday. Britain was digging out after heavy snow grounded planes and snarled roads and railways.

Up to 16 centimeters (6.3 inches) fell overnight Saturday. Some motorists spent the night in their cars amid treacherous highway conditions, and officials urged drivers on Sunday to stay off the icy roads.

London’s Heathrow Airport — Europe’s busiest — canceled a third of Sunday’s flights and warned of delays amid heavy fog.

Stansted, Birmingham and Luton airports suspended operations overnight as snow piled up on runways, but resumed operations Sunday.

Rome is struggling under its first heavy snowfall in 26 years, and snow has also fallen on Spain’s Balearic islands in the Mediterranean.

Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday said the snowfall was beautiful, but he is wishing spring will come soon.

Despite the temperatures, Benedict kept his Sunday appointment at the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square, which still had snow from an overnight storm that ended a day earlier. Bundled up in a white overcoat, the pope blessed an unusually small crowd of pilgrims.

Rome’s mayor is being criticized for the lack of snow plows and salters. But the city counters that it can’t spend millions of euros (dollars) on equipment that might not be used in decades.

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